Expert swordsman Valentin Rochefort is either a hero or a villain, depending on whose side you are on. French Queen Marie de Medici blackmails him into assassinating King Henri IV of France, which forces him to flee to England. There he becomes embroiled in a plot against King James I.

English mathematician Robert Fludd has concluded that a comet will strike the Earth in 500 years if he doesn't change history. Fludd is convinced that by stopping James he will alter fate, since he sees in James' action the seeds of political discontent being sown.

Along with Valentin are his arch- rival Dariole (a woman in disguise) and samurai warrior Tanaka Saburo, both of whom are pulled into the plot.

They are all about to discover that blackmail, love, loyalty and politics make strange bedfellows. In her brilliantly crafted, thought-provoking novel, Gentle not only brings to life her fascinating characters but Renaissance Europe as well. She has a keen eye for detail and a philosopher's knack for raising questions, such as what happens if you change the course of human events. (May, 672 pp., $14.95)
Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin